Not many people know that there are two cheese makers in Hawes!
We are an award winning two and a half person artisan cheese maker based in Hawes and specialise in goat cheese. There are almost three of us: Stuart, Iona, part timers Malcolm and Pete.
We are tucked away at the bottom end of Hawes, North Yorkshire, on a small industrial estate: Upper Wensleydale Business Park, next door to the Goodlife and adjacent to the new GTEC building.
About Our Business
Ribblesdale Cheese was formed in 1978 by my uncle, Iain Hill, a tall, charismatic Yorkshire man through and through, who moved to the Yorkshire Dales in 1974 after engineering a redundancy payment from Lewis’ where he was a store manager. His initial idea, after buying a dilapidated farm house, was to start an outdoor centre for inner city children. This did not work out. He tried a few other ideas with little success, until his mother, my grandmother who was by then living with my uncle and his children, gave him some money with strict instructions to ‘do something useful’ with it.
So, (much to Grandma Hill’s dismay) he bought a pair of goats and named them Victoria and Maude after his mother. Grandma Hill, Victoria Maude, was not impressed. He did not realise that they were in kid and in short order Victoria and Maude produced two fine offspring and milk. Iain’s drinking buddy, the local vet suggested that he make cheese and that is how we started. Iain built up the herd to around 100 that lived in a barn opposite the farm house; they were very naughty and kept escaping, causing much chaos and mayhem around the surrounding fields and annoyance to neighbouring farmers.
We are called Ribblesdale Cheese because Iain first made cheese in his farm house, a mile away from the Ribblehead viaduct and the source of the River Ribble. The area around the viaduct gave us the idea to name two of our cheeses, Batty and Jericho, after two old settlements inhabited by the Victorian era railway workers who built the viaduct.
Iain perfected his cheese craft and built a loyal local following, progressing to local and then national wholesale outlets. Goat cheese was a relatively new and different phenomenon in the 1980s, where cow’s cheese was the norm and many people – still to this day – prefer not to eat goat cheese as they are often reminded of the sometimes smelly, rustic style goat cheese available in days gone by; fortunately, public taste is changing and many now appreciate the taste, variety and health benefits associated with goat cheese.
Eventually, due to arthritis, Iain sold the goats and bought in the goat milk and started to make cheese himself at other cheese maker’s premises as his initial home dairy became too small; carrying kits of goat mlk through the house was not very practical. Eventually he contracted out the cheese making process to various dairies. Sadly, Iain died in 2006 and was succeeded by his niece, Iona, (that’s me!) who knew absolutely nothing about cheese or cheese making. It was a steep learning curve!
In 2018, we are a very different business, but without losing sight of our humble and very authentic beginnings. By 2004, Iain had located the business in a small unit in nearby Horton in Ribblesdale. In 2008, we became cheese makers once more and needed more space to install a dairy. Our only option for larger premises was in Hawes, where we created a new dairy from scratch.
Everything we make is by hand: the milk is stirred by hand, the curd is hand cut, hand shovelled and potted by hand. A vat takes as long as it takes, there are no set times or schedules, no push button machinery, we go by feel, timing, the look, and the rate of acidity development; our cheese really is artisan, completely made by hand by two experienced people, Iona and Stu.
All of our cheese is made in small batch production, in a long, slow and traditional way, to recipes that Iona developed. Many people do not appreciate the time and physical effort involved in cheese making – we can be in at 6am, setting the pasteuriser off and finish washing down at about 4.30pm – and this is only the beginning.
After making the cheese, we get it tested by the lab and pack it. Then follows the serious consideration of planning as to whether we mature, smoke or keep the cheese relatively young and hand wax it – and how much of each and when. Matured cheese is very high maintenance as it must be checked, rubbed and turned twice a week, the maturing rooms kept clean and of course there is a lead time before it is ready. Soft cheese too, must be planned for, so that we have just enough, as the shelf life is considerably shorter than hard cheese. Planning is quite an art and extremely important to ensure the best quality and age profile.
We specialise in goat cheese: about 90% of our sales are goat cheese, but we also make award winning sheep cheese and the odd bit of award winning unpasteurised Wensleydale cow’s cheese. In 2013, we made our first sortie into soft goat cheese making and won a Gold at Nantwich 2013 for our new Goat Curd.
About Our Milk
Our goat’s milk comes from a single herd located about 30 miles away from us, in Yorkshire. It is single source and excellent quality. Our ewe’s milk comes from Simon Stott at Laund Farm, Chipping, just over the border in Lancashire who has 400 Friesland sheep and again, this is single source.
Our cow’s milk is from a single herd of pedigree Friesian, Ayrshire and Shorthorn cows just up the road from us.
Since Iain’s day, we have developed several new ranges of cheese and we bought our own commercial smoker, using oak chippings from Theakston’s brewery. The cheese we make includes: waxed cheeses, natural rinded cheeses, an unpasteurised cow’s milk Wensleydale, soft cheese, our goat curd and semi soft, French inspired cheeses.
Stuart was born in South Africa to British parents, making him an original East Londoner, (East London in South Africa!) The family returned to England in 1977 and after a somewhat peripatetic childhood, Stuart found himself in Basingstoke doing a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. He completed two years before moving to Cullercoates, near Whitley Bay to join the family restaurant business.
After his parents sold their business, not knowing which path to take, after two years of engineering and three years of cooking, he decided to take a job as a commis chef at the Rose and crown in Bainbridge, bringing him to the Yorkshire Dales.
Stuart spent the following 22 years working in various pubs in the Yorkshire Dales as a chef, chief bottle washer and various managerial positions, culminating in running the Green Dragon at Hardraw. After 22 years in the hospitality industry, Stuart has changed direction, into the world of artisan cheese.
Stuart’s likes nothing better than to walk his dog Pip in the middle of winter, with the north wind blowing on a deserted Bamber
Beach in the North East. He has been known to dust off his golf clubs and get the odd round in and enjoys playing snooker. Stuart is unsurprisingly, a good cook and his favourite food is fish and shellfish. He is a self-confessed fan of 80’s music and believes that Jeremy Clarkson should be an MP. Stuart’s dislikes include tinned spam, followed by his father’s home-grown broad beans, Sunday drivers and caravans. Stu’s most over used phrase is, ‘No, I don’t miss the pub trade…’
Stuart joined us in June 2010.
Iona is Yorkshire born and bred and has lived in the Yorkshire Dales since November 2006.
Iona started off professional life with a degree in law and trained to be a solicitor. Iona quickly realised that she did not have the makings to be a solicitor and left before finishing her articles. There followed a brief interlude of managing small-scale unit trust portfolios where she picked up an interest in finance and she then embarked on a training contract with Chartered Accountants Deloitte Touche, specialising in manufacturing audits, from as was Dalgety to RTZ. She qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1988 and later joined KPMG as a manager. She became an FCA in 1999.
After 15 years or so freelancing, living and working in four continents as an accountant/project manager specialising in business strategy, business turnaround and performance measurement (during which time she gained an MSc from Bath University Business School in Responsibility and Business Practice) she returned to the Yorkshire Dales in 2006 and on 1st April 2007 formally took over her uncle, Iain Hill’s cheese business.
She is a largely self-taught cheese maker and loves nothing more than developing new recipes, tweaking old ones and still very much enjoys cheese making. She says that each make is different, there are always variables, and appreciates that she continues to learn new things, cheesy nuances every make. Iona hopes that her uncle Iain would be pleased and proud of where we are today as this is his legacy.
Iona enjoys getting to know and talking with other cheese makers, hence the series of blog posts profiling other small, artisan cheese makers. She is proud to have been a judge at Nantwich since 2013.
In December 2012, Iona graduated from Leeds University Business School gaining a Distinction in an MSc in Manufacturing and Leadership. She enjoys cooking, reading, military history and strategy, Sudoku, Radio 4 and attempting to grow vegetables: rabbits 30, Iona nil. A vegetarian and animal lover of pigs, dogs, donkeys, and has an ever-increasing family of worryingly related feral cats and two daft squawking geese.
An interview with by The East London Cheese Company with Iona here.